The State of the Patient-Provider Relationship in 2017
By Jim Higgins
The relationship between a patient and their provider has always been at the root of positive outcomes for patients and success for a practice. Unfortunately, this relationship has hit some bumpy spots in recent years. Providers can no longer rely on clinical care excellence alone to keep patients coming back. Patients expect the full customer experience. Never has this been truer than in 2017.
Here are some of the trends we saw in the patient-provider relationship throughout 2017:
The “Amazon Effect” moved to healthcare
It is a well-known fact that Amazon revolutionized the customer experience. As founder Jeff Bezos explained, “We’re not competitor obsessed, we’re customer obsessed. We start with the customer and we work backwards.” Their strategy worked. The Amazon effect created a shift in the way individuals view their relationships with businesses. Today’s customer now assumes that companies will anticipate and meet their needs ahead of time. These expectations have made the leap to healthcare. Patients now expect an Amazon-like experience, and they don’t just want stellar care, but connection and accessibility as well. Excellence is now expected to be the norm for providers, not the exception. Meeting these rising demands is difficult. In fact, a study of healthcare CEOs found that meeting these consumer-based expectations is one of the top three challenges facing those in the medical industry. Why?
Practices must juggle competing priorities
Declining insurance and Medicare/Medicaid payouts have left practices spread thin. Today’s doctors are seeing more patients than ever before, and yet their incomes are either flat or falling. Falling reimbursements have forced practices to increase the number of patients being seen—leading to extra stress on staff and a “Jiffy Lube” experience (where practices try to get patients in and out of the office as quickly as possible) for patients. Unfortunately, such an experience is not what Amazon patients demand. Today’s patients want personal, connected relationships with their practices—the opposite of a Jiffy Lube experience. The result of such a disconnect? One in three patients report they will switch practices in the next couple of years.
Patient relationship management tools — the “Amazon” of healthcare relationships
For the foreseeable future, the number of patients that practices must see each day to stay profitable will not change. Reimbursements are largely out of a provider’s control. How do practices meet the demands patients have for high-quality personalized care when seeing such large numbers of patients? Technology. Technology is healthcare’s answer to meeting the needs of Amazon patients. Connection through technology is not only effective, but it is what patients want. Studies show that 60 percent of patients would like to receive text reminders and 70 percent want text communication that goes beyond reminders. The same is true for email. Nine out of 10 patients prefer doctors who email their patients.
Patient relationship management tools enable practices to reach out to large numbers of patients and create real relationships. They support on-going communication through different mediums, making it much easier for practices to develop and nurture relationships with their patients. In addition, using technologies like these reduces the stress placed upon practices. For example, practices can save hours of time on phones. The average phone call to set up an appointment takes 8.1 minutes. Multiply that by the number of patients seen in a practice and the time wasted is astronomical. In fact, administrative tasks are one of the biggest irritants for practices. Using text, email, or online self-scheduling reduces the workload. Unfortunately, the majority of practices still do not use text or email to communicate with their patients. Implementing better patient communication technology is an easy fix that practices can—and should—tackle in 2018.
Looking to the future
The world is marching forward. It is critical that practices evolve with it. Embracing technology that helps move the patient experience from Jiffy Lube to Amazon is going to play a critical role in a practice’s success. According to McKinsey, over half of patients say they have the same customer service expectations from healthcare that they have from non-healthcare businesses. This trend is only going to grow. Now is the time for practices to embrace that reality and start making changes.
Jim Higgins is the CEO and founder of Solutionreach in Lehi, UT.
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